Monday, December 31, 2012

The Tyranny of Thoughts

This blog is like my meditation cave. I retreat here to dive deeeper into my soul. New Year's Eve is especially a good time to do some deep reflection.

I'm not exactly sure what I will come up with everytime I face this blank screen with my fingers hovering over the keyboard, like a diver poised on the edge of a springboard.

When I was young, curiosity drove me to acquire knowledge. It was my belief that at some point, with sufficient knowledge and intelligence, one gets to understand everything. Reason and logic can overcome any intellectual challenge.

Then as I grew older, I began to realise that the reasoning mind is not everything. There are depths within the mind that are never penetrated by reason. The mind, which has served mankind as the ultimate instrument for exploring the secrets of the universe is the biggest obstacle of all towards enlightenment.

Our preconceptions, our love for ideology and dogma seduce us into believing that we have found the Ultimate Truth when in fact we are like children preoccupied indoors with the latest toys, while the vast world of wonders lie unexplored outside.

Everytime we think, we are already imprisoned by the mind. We fear the cessation of thoughts because we think that the absence of thoughts make us stupid. How wrong we are!

A wise spiritual teacher once said: "Thoughts are wonderful servants but bad masters". How true it is. Thoughts, when they are given free reign, takes over our lives. If I have a new year resolution at all, it has to be this: "To make thoughts my servants". Happy New Year.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Mobile University

Living in KL means a lot of time spent in my car. Fortunately I have a consolation: audiobooks. For the past few years, I think I've listened to more books than I have read.

Not only have I "read" many of the latest non-fiction--Malcom Gladwell's Blink and Outliers, and Tim Wu's The Master Switch among others--through the audio medium, I've also sat through many lectures in subjects as diverse a the philosophy of religion, Russian literature, history of classical music, the human body and movie appreciation. My car has become my mobile university; driving is no longer a chore, it is something I even look forward too these days.

I also listen to a lot of poetry--Yeats, Shelley, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Alan Poe. I even sleep with my iPod: my favourit bedtime listening are philosophical talks on religion by Alan Watts. I've been using my first generation iPod for maybe 7 years now and it is the best investment in gadgets I've ever made.

What joy it is to be able to carry a whole library of wisdom right in your breast pocket. Listening is so easy--you just plug in your earphones and lo and behold, the author talks in your head.

Whenever I need a bit of break, in between heavy sessions of academic lectures, I'll dive into my portable collection of classical music--Chopin, Mozart and a bit of Baroque music will usually put me into a very relaxed and blissful state. Ah, instant knowledge, instant relaxation!

I used to buy audio cassettes and have a huge collection of audiobooks in cassettes. But nowadays, I get my audio content from Audible, commiting myself to more than RM500 of audiobooks every year as a Gold subscriber. I have more than a hundred books in my audio wishlist, and the list is still growing.

Unlike many of my IT friends, I'm not exactly an Apple aficionado; It concerns me not if the latest iPhone is thinner, lighter, comes with bigger screen and supports LTE. The iPod is all I care about. With the iPod and Audible, the world's knowledge--the pleasures of life--is always an 'earshot' away.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Art of the Possible

One thing is consistent throughout my years of blogging: I've avoided the subject of politics--the raison d'ĂȘtre of many other blogs in cyberspace. I steer clear of political topics not because I abhor the subject; far from it: I do have firmly held political views and follow the local political scene closely, but I'd prefer to keep my opinion to myself. The closest I'll go is to reflect on politics, as a subject, philosophically.

Political debates tend to stir a lot of passion among readers. The Malaysian blogosphere is already filled with way too much partisan vitriol; I do not care to add more to it. Technology, the Internet in particular, is a double-edged sword: both the good and the evil are equally amplified. It is also a sad fact of human nature that the vilest, meanest and the most fantastic half-truths often get the most attention.

When political idealism is charged with extreme religious fervour, it becomes a potent mix. Inflammatory rhetoric can often lead to physical violence. This stems from the fact that political and religious world-views have deep psychological roots. Our personal experiences (usually painful ones) and our cultural programming play a big part in shaping them. We all want to preserve our own comfort zones and tend to be wary of change.

From a superficial perspective, there appears to be universal values that we all share--justice, liberty, freedom and economic prosperity. But when we look a little bit closer, we find that there are deep cultural and philosophical differences on what these abstract concepts mean, and how we, as a society, go about achieving them.

Bismarck once said that politics is the art of the possible. We can either take this statement negatively (there are no principles in politics, everything is negotiable) or otherwise (always seek the most pragmatic solution, given the circumstances).

Ideally, all political debate should be driven by the need to explore what's possible. Without it, political rhetoric, is all hate-fanning and fear-mongering.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Returning to the Oasis

To write again in this blog is like going home again after a long absence. I can't believe this is my first entry for 2012! Where have I been all these time?

I started blogging, I believe, in 2003, which makes this blog almost ten years old. I was enjoying my time in Jakarta then: I remember blogging from an Internet cafe in Sarinah, disciplining myself to an hour of blogging everyday (They charged 5000 rupiah an hour).

Those were certainly great times. Life in Jakarta was filled with discovery and possibilities. I wrote, I read, I explored and I made a lot of friends. I was freer than a bird.

And how I'd read: I had a book with me all the time and any spot that would allow me to sit quietly and undisturbed would be turned into a reading nook: on trains chugging my way across the Parahyangan mountains, in rustic Sundanese restaurants drowned in their hypnotic strains of gamelan music, at street corners after hearty meals of bubur ayam, serenaded by the ever-present buskers (pengamins), in my happy hotel room--half-watching BBC News on TV--after another satisfying day of wandering all over Jakarta.

Not only did I blog, I also wrote longhand in my journal: one page a day for 2 years, maintaining a habit I had started when I was working in Singapore. I had a maxim then: If something is not written down, it did not happen. One writes to live. Only through writing, life's events are thoroughly absorbed and assimilated into one's soul.

I have been doing a different type of writing these past years in KL: programming. Writing computer code is in many ways, a simpler task than writing prose. The vocabulary of programming is much smaller: everything is precise, deterministic and logical.

Prose writing, in comparison is a struggle--there's always that dreaded blank page, with the ever-blinking cursor mocking you from the computer screen, and there you'd sit alone searching, waiting for that elusive word or turn of phrase that would capture in perfection that thought you have in mind.

After years of wandering in the desert of computer code, now, or at least tonight, I stumble onto my old familiar oasis of a blog--the sweetness of its waters feels like balm on my soul.